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Former President George W. Bush underwent a successful heart procedure earlier today at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, to clear an blockage discovered yesterday during a routine physical.
The former president had a stent was inserted.
Cardiologist James Willerson, who is president and medical director of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, joins us to explain the procedure, the symptoms of a blocked artery and what could have happened if doctors hadn’t discovered it.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, it's HERE AND NOW. I'm Robin Young. And he is lucky he went to his annual checkup. He is former President George W. Bush who underwent a successful heart procedure earlier today at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. It was to clear a blockage discovered Monday during a routine physical. The former president had a stent inserted. Dr. James Willerson is president and medical director of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. Dr. Willerson, a fairly routine but not without risks, so tell us more about this procedure.
DR. JAMES WILLERSON: In a patient with a significantly narrowed coronary artery - artery in their heart - that is treated most commonly today by placing a stent at the site of narrowing using a catheter to deliver the stent. The stent is often covered with a material that prevents tissue in-growth and blood clot development.
YOUNG: And keeps the artery open.
WILLERSON: Yes, exactly.
YOUNG: Yeah. And it used to be - I know my mom had an angioplasty, which was a balloon catheter that had - opened up the arteries so that the stent could come in. We don't know if he had that. But what might have happened had he not checked and found that blocked artery?
WILLERSON: Well, it really depends on which artery was blocked. If it were the artery on the front wall of his heart and it were significantly narrowed, that could have led to a heart attack or severe complications of a heart attack. If it were a different artery, he might have been limited by having chest tightness with exercise or emotion, one develops angina, which is a chest tightness on the left side. It may radiate into the left arm. It occurs during exercise or emotion and is relieved when one stops. We don't know that, but that would be pretty common.
YOUNG: Well, and we're presuming that he has good health care. He also seemed to be healthy. He's now 67 years old. He's been a runner, a mountain biker. So are you surprised that he might have had a blocked artery, or is this...
WILLERSON: No. You know the most important risk for a blocked artery or a coronary heart disease is a genetic one; very elevated bad cholesterols, LDL contribute. He's not a smoker, but smoking contributes. But we see patients all the time who've exercised vigorously and who may have controlled almost everything but if they have a genetic risk in their background, they too are at risk.
YOUNG: So, again, as a doctor, as you view this, is there something everyone can take from this? It sounds like at least one thing would be have those routine physicals.
WILLERSON: Absolutely. And there are patients at higher risks than others. And again, the genetic background, a very elevated bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, all contribute to the risks.
YOUNG: Yeah. And what happens now? Will the former presidency have to do more or less of something because he's got a stent?
WILLERSON: He'll have to take a couple of medicines that help prevent blood clotting on the stent, and he would be on those medicines for an extended period of time. And then he'll need to be followed pretty carefully. And every effort should be made to control his bad cholesterol and keep it as low as possible with a statin.
YOUNG: Well, and meanwhile the message that he's already sent out is get someone to check your ticker. Dr. James Willerson, president and medical director of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, thank you.
WILLERSON: Thank you.
YOUNG: So, a cautionary medical tale there and a quick note on another tale, albeit a fluffier one. As we found out last night, cats and lilies should never cross paths. In fact, even brushing up against an Easter lily's dust can make a cat sick. And there was one of my guys happily chewing on a lily. Thankfully, the MSPCA has hotlines and the terrific online Angell Memorial Hospital here where the two cats are currently inmates, I mean guests. Fingers crossed. And from now on, we are sticking with roses. Back in a bit. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.